Language teacher tries alternative exams

French and Spanish teacher Anita Unrath administered a new form of testing for final exams, allowing her students to put the skills they learned to use in an interactive way instead of having a multiple choice test.

“Foreign language teaching over the years has changed, in that now we’re trying to tell the students, OK, it’s your time to perform,” Unrath said. “In music you have concerts, in sports you have games, and I’m telling my students this week, OK now it’s showtime. Show me what you’ve learned.”

The exams in French and Spanish are called Integrated Performance Assessments, or IPAs. They test students on four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. The tests are designed to make students use all these skills.

“I like how you can showcase your abilities more,” said freshman Claire Goffinet, a French II student. “I prefer multiple choice testing because it’s easier, but this testing is more effective.”

French I, French II and Spanish II students are taking similar exams. They will be listening and responding to what they’ve heard, reading short stories in the foreign language and writing a composition. They’ll also speak with a partner and fill out a form, asking basic questions about sports, activities and their families.

“This is the first year I’ve thrown the multiple choice test out the window,” Unrath said. “The students can show me what they have learned rather than on a multiple choice test, when I give them a question if they happen to forget that verb tense or that vocabulary word, it’s like a ‘gotchya’ They don’t know the answer, and they get it wrong.”

When Unrath arrived at West Shore in 2002, she found that everyone gave multiple choice tests. So, likewise, she gave 150-question multiple choice tests. She was shocked at how bad the scores were, and disappointed because she thought her students had learned a lot but the multiple choice tests showed otherwise.

Unrath tried the IPA tests in December and got much better results, so she’s using them again this spring.

Unlike typical exams which are taken in two-hour long sessions during exam week, the IPAs are conducted during regular classes over several days before the scheduled exam day. One day the students will do the listening portion, the next day the reading and another day the writing.

Unrath said two-hour sessions don’t give students enough time to complete the exam, and it seems that the students enjoy being able to take it over a period of time instead of during one exam period.

However, some students don’t like the IPAs.

“I think she’s spreading it over too many days, while multiple choice takes just one day,” said Brittany B., an eighth grade Spanish II student.

Freshman Chase Radel, one of Unrath’s Spanish II students agrees.

“I don’t like that we have to take it earlier than our assigned exam day,” Radel said. “I prefer multiple-choice testing.”

By Emily Dubec-Hunter